PODCAST SUMMARY –
If you or someone you know needs help please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (this is abuse, violence, assault, etc). 800.799.SAFE (7233)
July Myner, Executive Director for the Center for Hope and Safety, speaks to T.H. and Jessica about domestic violence and what is being done to help victims of abuse. The Center for Hope and Safety is a shelter in Bergen County, NJ, dedicated to assisting survivors of domestic violence and their children. Julye provides information on what to do if you want to help someone who is in an abusive situation.
- At the root of domestic violence are power and control. It’s an attempt to have control and impose authority over that person.
- Abuse is not just physical. It can be emotional and financial.
- Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that makes the victim question their own judgement.
OUR GUEST – JULIE MYNER, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR HOPE & SAFETY
T.H.: We have a very special guest. Her name is Julye Myner. Thank you for coming and joining us on this podcast today. Julye has a very heavy responsibility as the Executive Director for the Center of Hope and Safety, which is a program for battered women and children, a shelter, as well as robust programming and support and resources within northern New Jersey. Welcome to our podcast today, Julye.
Julye: Thank you very much for having me on your podcast today and giving me this opportunity to speak to our community.
T.H.: What we had asked someone else in your team was to define domestic violence. Can you define domestic violence for us?
Julye: Two words, power and control, are always at the root of domestic violence. It’s when one person attempts or does control another person in a relationship and imposes power onto that person. The way that this will look like, it will be emotional abuse, you may have heard of, well, there’s the emotional abuse, the gaslighting is the word I was looking for. Having individuals question what the reality is, ‘you’re lying’, ‘no, I’m not lying’ back and forth about what is real and what isn’t as a way for the abuser to gain control over the victim. So I said the emotional abuse, the physical abuse, it could be financial abuse. You see isolation in instances of domestic violence. The abuser tries to remove the circle of friends and family surrounding a victim away from them as a means to be more powerful and controlling. What we see in victims oftentimes is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. There’s a sense of commitment for the partner, the abuser, and it takes a long time to untangle oneself from these situations. It’s very complicated, and it could be very dangerous. I would also like to mention that children are also often the hidden victims of domestic violence. They are exposed to that violence themselves and at worse it’s happening in their own home. When the domestic violence occurs, whether it’s emotional, physical, even financial, the children are damaged by it. We also serve many children as well as women. We also serve men who are victims of domestic violence, including older adults.
Jessica: So Julye, I just want to make sure that we’re able to help clarify what you’re already talking about. Because I do think that it’s such a great and important explanation, because I think that for even myself, before we did the prior interview with someone from your team, I think a lot of people when they hear the words domestic violence, they really think more it’s always only physical. It’s so important to spread the message that it’s so much wider than that. I’ve heard people talk about gaslighting before, and that was a recent term that I heard. I did not know that was actually considered part of domestic violence.
Can you elaborate a little bit on that because I think that some people might think it’s just in its own category?
Julye: Yes, gaslighting is fascinating, and you see it in most domestic violence relationships. It’s when the victim is being robbed of reality. For instance, the victim may say to the abuser, ‘You were out late last night drinking with your friends.’ She may be very accurate about that, and he may turn around and say, ‘Of course not, I was in the basement watching TV all night long.’ He’s so adamant about it, and makes the victim who’s already starting to feel a little shaky and hopeless and tries to maintain that relationship going that, oh, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I didn’t hear you leave at night and come back and smell the alcohol on your breath. Now she’s beginning to question her own sense of reality. It happens small and it begins to grow with more egregious examples to the point where she’s always questioning herself as to what’s real and what’s not. He’s gaining more and more power, and he’s making her feel like she is losing her mind.
Jessica: Part of our conversation last time was a little bit about, and we’re going to talk about this too, what we as laypeople could maybe do for people that we might know, who we maybe suspect might be in a bad situation. I’m curious about the gaslighting thing because I feel like it’s one of those things that you’re not going to see any kind of physical signs. You’re not necessarily going to know that someone feels like they’re living in a parallel universe of what’s happening or what’s not.
Are there, and maybe the answer’s no, are there signs of that, that someone like us might be able to pick up on if we’re having conversations with someone, that maybe able to give us an indicator of we want to know more, we might need to watch a little more closely to make sure that this friend of ours is safe?
Julye: Making excuses for the abuser is something that frequently happens. Those excuses make more sense for the victim than they do for a person who’s grounded in reality, such as a person who is not in that abusive relationship. A mother may hear her daughter defend her abuser in ways that are really not making any sense, but the daughter can’t see it. Then the mother may be reflecting back saying, ‘I’m hearing you say this. However, I know X, Y and Z, and it doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t quite make sense. Can you please explain to me how you’re thinking about this?’ Trying to dive in a little deeper to help the victim better check the reality and allow her to explore it in a way that is safe. She may not be emotionally able to turn around and say, oh my god, he’s so abusive, and I need to get out. No, it takes a long time to get to that point. But a good friend or family member can be there by helping the victim ground herself/himself in reality with simple questions. ‘Tell me again about your thinking.’ ‘Well, I’m seeing this and not that.’ ‘Maybe you were right that he was out drinking with his friends.’ ‘I saw him drive down the road at 11 o’clock at night.’ These types of little proofs, nuggets of reality that will help go against the gaslighting that is common.
T.H.: Is it really kind of a gut check? I mean, for everyone, for friends, family, as well as the individual themselves who’s going through this, if it doesn’t feel right, which–Jessica and I are both divorced, hence the exEXPERTS, but there are certain times with any relationship that you’re in, where there are gut check times, and if it doesn’t feel right, it’s generally not right. In my experience in my life, my gut has been brutally honest. Then it’s just a matter of what kind of volume of voice do I want to give my gut. Am I going to be brave enough to really listen to this thing inside of me that’s telling me and trying to set me in a better place, or not?
Do you have resources on the website and stuff that coach people for themselves, as well as for a community that cares for that person, on how to talk to someone? Because I would imagine an intervention would be very scary, and you’re already in a scary situation.
Julye: Exactly. No, we’re very careful to not do that, because of the dangers that are very real. We do ask people that if you have a friend who is in danger to please reach out to a professional organization who can assess the risks and also help them get to safety. It’s lethal. Leaving an abusive situation is extremely dangerous, and this is when the murders are likely to occur. There are many times when we have a person call and we tell them to not leave right now because she may be killed. So no, we do not want non-professionals to have to put themselves on the line and talk clients on how to leave a situation. We definitely need to have a higher level of assessment to be done very carefully, very quickly, to maintain safety during a very dangerous situation. We would ask people in the community, beyond just the reality checking, but if there is an abusive relationship there, to give the national hotline as a resource, give the Center for Hope and Safety as a resource for them to call. I have to tell you that especially during the pandemic, and during the stay at home order, calling was dangerous because the abuser was within proximity. We had many women who were trapped in their homes. We had women call who were speaking very softly, and they had to hang up, or he’s in the room next door. We’ve had client assaulted while they were reaching out to us for help via phone. We had so many calls just ended very abruptly, phones being broken. It was very difficult. One solution that we realized we could put out in the community, if you have a friend, if you can get that friend to come out of the house and lend her a cell phone, or give her a cell phone that the abuser may not know about, it could help her reach out to help in a safer way. Now, getting her out of the house during the pandemic or when they are trapped is the best situation. We had another client who just walked out of the house with her kids, nothing else but her and the kids, the clothes on their back, and her cell phone to call us from the park. She goes, ‘I’m out. I’m not going back. Come get me.’ And she’s safe. She’s okay.
T.H.: Do the police go, or you guys go? How does that work as far as getting the police involved with this?
Julye: If the client is inside the home or the victim is inside her home, we try to get her to leave the home to go to a safe place on her own. That’s also to not create a volatile situation in the home. The police being called and arriving at the home can escalate the situation, no matter how well trained they may be. We always ask the victim to leave to go to a safe place, it could be the nearest police station, and then we go and we meet them and take them to safety. If a victim calls, and they are in imminent danger, and they are unable to leave and to keep them safe we need to call the police, that is what we do.
Jessica: I was just going to ask, if someone calls you and your recommendation is don’t leave now, what is a person to do in that situation?
Julye: We definitely work with them and create an escape plan that is thoughtful, strategic, and safe. Of course, if they are in imminent danger of being killed in the home right then and there, we do call the police and they go and they take victim to safety, but most of the time, it’s not like that. They realize the risk, they are being educated on what the risks are, how to keep themselves safe, and how to prepare for a safe exit. ‘When does he leave the home?’ is often a question that is being asked. Do you have access to a car? Can you walk to a park? Are there children there with you? If we have sometimes more time, we ask them to accumulate some cash, to get their passport, their birth certificate, and that of their children. It makes it easier to rebuild your life once you have those basic documents already with you. But for the most part, victims are able to come to safety immediately. But we are able to tell, ‘no, follow these steps. You’ll be safer that way’ or ‘oh my goodness, we have to call the police because you’re in a really significant danger as well as your children.’
T.H.: How long can a woman and their children stay with you? I know that you have a safe house. Are there capacity issues? How do you manage all that so that these victims still get help and a safe place to be that’s unknown, obviously? How do you guys manage that?
Julye: Yeah, our goal for the victims who come to our safe house is to help them rebuild their lives and have permanent housing of their own. We don’t want them to live in a congregate setting for weeks on end. We want them to feel powerful and in control of their lives. The length of stay at the safe house averages about 46 days. We also have other programs, as you mentioned before, that work with the safe house clients as well as non-safe house clients to rebuild their lives. We have a lot of housing partners in the community that help us move our safe house clients into permanent housing. For clients who are more challenged, we also have our transitional housing program, which allows housing for 18 months to two years, while the client rebuilds her life through financial literacy, career counseling, education, job development, so that she can be sustainable and support herself and her children that’d be at risk of having to return to an abusive relationship, to be able to live.
Jessica: For people in the community, or any community, because the services are amazing. Everything you guys do is amazing. You are local here to our Tri-state area (NY, NJ & CT), but of course, anyone out there listening, there are resources and similar centers and shelters in your area, which can all be accessed through the national hotline, which by the way, that phone number is on the exEXPERTS website and you can find that there.
But Julye, for people in any community that want to help, and I’m not talking about someone who may have a friend that they suspect might be in a scary position, but just in general, even if you’re not tangentially involved with anybody that maybe specifically at risk, what can people do to help at all?
Julye: Yes, absolutely. I’ll often call us a community hub. We receive support, and we give support. We’re just the in between. We rely on the community to meet a lot of our basic needs of our clients. We have a food pantry that our community service clients–and I just want to go back a little bit to our services and expand because you’ll understand better what I will say. Our safe house is a very important component of the organization. However, it’s just one component. Victims do not have to come to the safe house to receive services from the organization. We serve many victims who are still living in abusive situations and managing them. We have a community service department that works with these individuals, these families, and they’re not ready to leave. It’s not safe to leave. We do frequent risk assessments, safety planning, and they let us know when they’re ready to take the next step. Some of them are experiencing financial abuse. They may be given a very small amount of money on a weekly basis. We are here to give them some diapers, because they don’t have enough money to get diapers, or sanitary products that they may not have enough money to get, or some toiletry. We are here for them. Leaving may feel threatening to many victims, and it’s a big step to take, especially during the pandemic, and if you have children. We do want victims to understand that calling us does not mean that they have to leave. They can call us just to check in, to speak with somebody who understands what they may be going through, and how to start to take some steps, and educate them and support them. That’s important. Then once our clients leave our safe house, or left an abusive situation without coming to the safe house, they’re now survivors. We are there to continue to support them in making sure that they are in control of their lives. We focus on economic independence. We know how important that is to the survival of victims, and that’s when the community also plays a big role. We have more survivors than we have victims receiving services from our organization. At this time, a lot of them are struggling because of the economic crisis related to the pandemic: loss of employment, wages, struggling with childcare, trying to maintain employment, managing their kids. We are here for them. They come to us. They come to our food pantry that we rely on the community to keep fully stocked. We have clothing to help them dress up appropriately for an interview if they lost their job and they’re looking for another one. We have gift cards that we receive from the community that we give to our clients to buy what they need. We have the food pantry that has everything from diapers, to food, to shampoo, to shoes.
Jessica: So really, donations of anything in kind are one of the most important ways that people in the community can help because these women, or men, and children really need anything and everything.
Julye: Yes, they do. Yes, we needed back to school supplies recently. We needed headphones for the kids that are learning virtually from the safe house, summer camp supplies, and we always need bed sheets for the safe house.
T.H.: I came into contact with the Center for Health and Safety through a women’s event that I used to produce locally in northern New Jersey. With all those events, we always had a charitable component. I was so taken with this group of forceful, amazing, just, there really aren’t the words. I can’t come up with the word to properly define your tribe and your team over there, but it’s over the top. The truth is they need “over the top,” these victims. At one of the events, the Center for Hope and Safety had a table there, as well as we advertised and included them in all of our ads and our press releases. I would say 90% of the time, a woman would show up with her children because they saw the ad in the paper or they read about the fact that you guys were going to be at this event, and they never went home. That’s my connection with you because I felt like I did so very little. I did so very little. I invited you to come, I had a phone call, and I made sure that the word was out that you were going to be there. In fact, it changed somebody’s life. And so I think the overall message here is that there are so many different ways to help. You can donate financially, you can donate your time, you can sign up for their newsletters where they put out call for needs for different things for the pantries, or they have an event coming up that they need help with. I just found it for me very fulfilling also to know that I can make a difference. If I actually did something more than what I did, the difference would be so much, even bigger, and also very rewarding. I’m honored to have you on this podcast. And I speak on behalf of all women, primarily I know it is women and children, to thank your team for everything that they do and have your arms open with resources. I mean, you’re a savior and you are life changing, and so thank you for that.
Jessica: And Juyle, for people who do who want to reach out whether it’s because they need your help, or whether it’s because they want to help, what is the best way to reach out? Is it the national hotline number?
Julye: We have our own hotline for Bergen County residents. That number is 201-944-9600. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a trained counselor answers that call. We’ll be able to make an immediate assessment and walk that victim towards safety. So 201-944-9600.
Jessica: For anyone who’s listening who happens to live outside of our local area, do you know that number off the top of your head?
Julye: The national hotline number – 800.799.SAFE (7233)
Jessica: We have it on our website. Anyone will have that as a resource for you on the site.
Julye: And anyone who would like to help that resides in Bergen County, and actually beyond Bergen County, they can send us an email at email@example.com and let us know that they would like to receive our regular shout outs for help. At least monthly, our development team sends out an email to community members to let them know what it is that we need at this specific time. That is the most efficient way to meet our clients’ needs.
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